Tips on organising Windows 8 tiles

As regular readers will know, I write articles about keeping organised, and that topic can certainly be applied to the tiles on the Windows 8 Start screen. Indeed, some readers have emailed in and asked several questions on how best to customise the Start screen, and keep it well ordered and tidy. Here are two of those questions, which I intend to address in the following piece:

How can one keep tiles in Windows 8 from swapping places when moving them around? I would prefer if they just inserted between the tiles already there.

How can I arrange my Start screen tiles group in Windows 8 so the group will contain only one column? Now even if I have only four items, Windows 8 organises them in two columns, and I want them in one column, so they will not take up a screen's width space.

How you can and cannot move Windows 8 tiles

The first thing to make clear here is that unfortunately, there are limitations as to how you can arrange tiles on the Windows 8 Start screen. But I've come up with a few simple workaround tricks for some of the limitations.

With Windows 8 Start screen tiles, you can:

  • add and remove tiles whenever you want
  • rearrange the order of tiles (relatively)
  • groups tiles into sets
  • name sets of tiles
  • rearrange the order of sets of tiles
  • change the size of select tiles from a 1 x 1 to a 2 x 1 dimension
  • assign a custom picture to the Pictures app tile (if there are other apps that you can customise, please do mention them in the comments section!)

With Windows 8 Start screen tiles, you cannot:

  • leave a blank tile space anywhere you want
  • have a column of tiles that's only one app square wide
  • change the dimension of most tiles
  • change the icon of most tiles.

Before these frustrating limitations stop you from setting up your Windows 8 Start screen in a way that will increase your productivity and raise your happiness level, let me share some tricks and advice that helped me make peace with Windows 8.

Tricks for arranging Windows 8 tiles

The single best piece of advice I have regarding how to arrange your Windows 8 tiles is to use groups to their fullest extent.

Sets. I grouped together all my Office apps and realised this did not represent an efficiently organised group, even though it was a fairly small set. I pulled out a few apps that I use more frequently than others – Word, Outlook, and Excel – and dropped them into their own group just to the right of the rest of the bunch.

As mentioned above, I could not arrange these apps into a single column. All 1 x 1 apps always set up side-by-side. Two columns appear in every row. I'll take what I can get, though, and breaking tiles up into small subsets may be as close as you'll get to a precise arrangement.

Customised Photos app tile. You can change the width and icon image of the Photos app, which I thought I might be able to use to my advantage.

What Microsoft seemed to have in mind here is to let you use an image of your adorable family or some such snap as the tile icon for the Photos app. All you have to do is open the image in the Photos app and select "App tile" from the bottom menu.

I had an idea to co-opt this ability and instead create a dummy tile, or blank square, that might act as a placeholder where I would ideally like no app at all.

I was able to create a plain grey tile using the Paint app and saving it to my Pictures folder. In the image above, I made the app a shade of grey that would be visible in a screenshot, but I could match it to the colour of the background if I wanted to camouflage it better. Unfortunately, you can't take away the "Photos" text that's overlaid on the tile, and this trick is limited to apps which have tiles you can customise. In the end, I realised this was a pretty poor workaround.

Contacts. A better idea that came to mind was to fill in spaces with contacts. Using the People app (which can connect to LinkedIn and other places where your contacts store their information), you can create a Windows 8 tile of any person.

I filled a few slots in some of my sets of tiles with colleagues whom I email frequently. I figured if I have to have something in those slots and can't leave them blank, it might as well be something useful.

{MPU PlaceholderContacts are pretty nimble, too, and launching the app accidentally, as I am want to do on a touchscreen, doesn't cause a huge app to load. It just opens the People app and brings you to that person's info. Notice, too, that in the above image, the People app tile itself is in its own group.

Just so

You may not be able to arrange your Windows 8 tiles just so, but you can keep them organised in a way that will leave you working efficiently and keep you happy. And don't underestimate the importance of tile groups, or feel you need to have more than just an app or two in any given group.